People at all income levels often complain that they have trouble saving money because they are living pay cheque to pay cheque. However, saving is a classic case of mind over money. If cheap is chic, then saving is sexy. The mind works in mysterious (and expensive) ways, but you can outsmart and pave your path into spending less with these tricks:
1. Keep new notes
Subconsciously, we think old, grimy-looking notes are worth less than clean, crisp ones. Therefore, we generally spend faster and more freely with old notes, says a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. If possible, ask for newer notes when you receive change, or you can also exchange your old notes for new notes at the bank counter. Whenever you can, gather your old notes and deposit them into your savings account or top up your fixed deposit account.
When you are making purchases, try to give out the old notes first, and keep the new notes to yourself. This is only for purchases that you have to make, for example paying for lunch, utility bills or petrol. Don’t go out of the way to spend the old notes, just because they are old.
2. Merge your accounts
Some of us have more than one account to store our money, such as savings, current, a joint account and a PayPal account. A study in the Journal of Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes found that when funds flowed in and out of just one place, people found it easier to keep track of their spending patterns. This resulted in them spending 10% less of their money.
3. Keep goal-reminding pictures in your wallet
A study in the Journal of Marketing Research found that when people kept a photo of their children tucked away with cash that was meant for savings, they were significantly less likely to spend the money. For example, you can keep a photo of a doctor to remind you that you need to save to afford sending your child to medical school or a postcard of dream holiday or a picture of a house. Anything, as long as it’s a visual reminder of your commitment to a financial goal every time you dip into your wallet.
4. Convert the cost into Starbucks coffee
Keep your spending in line with your budget by converting the cost of an item into units you know well. A cup of Starbucks coffee perhaps? Let us assume a cup of Starbucks Coffee cost RM15. A branded pair of shoes on sale for RM200 might seem like a good bargain, but you can also get 13 cups of coffee from Starbucks with that amount – a comparison that might make a Starbucks fan think twice.
Make up your own (personally meaningful) unit of currency such as donuts, Coca-Cola, Kit Kats, loan payments, anything – and divide the cost of an item by it. One leather jacket or one month’s loan repayment? Still a good deal? Maybe not after all. This was well proven by a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, where the thought of cost comparison strengthened self-control and curbed overspending.
5. Pay yourself after you have paid off a debt
Once you finish paying off a loan or credit card balance, continue your payments but this time to your savings or investment account. This helps avoid the pain of saving as the extra money was no longer needed where it was allocated. This will also help you manage lifestyle inflation, so you don’t immediately start spending more with your additional money.
6. Estimate and fix your daily cost
Calculate how much money you will need on a daily basis. Count all important expenses, but aim to come up with the lowest figure possible. Keep in mind the amount you need for your daily cost. Write it on your hand, clip it to your notes or slot into your wallet. For example, let us assume your daily average expenses is RM25, getting a RM10 burger for lunch means you are spending almost half of your daily survival cost. Maybe you should do without the burger.
7. Sleep on every financial decision
Next time you feel an urge to make an impulse buy, stop to think first. Give yourself 24 to 48 hours waiting period before making the purchase, especially if it is unplanned and something you can live without. If you forget about the item once you walk away, it is a good sign that you do not need it. If you find yourself still thinking about it, ask yourself the following seven questions and weight out if you should buy it:
- Do I really need it?
- Do I already have something like this?
- Where will I put it?
- Does it work with other things I have?
- Will I have to spend more money to get the best use out of it?
- Can I find it for cheaper elsewhere?
- Will I really be any happier after buying this?
8. Leave your cards at home
If you know you are going to be in a situation where you might be tempted to spend, but don’t really need anything, leave your credit or debit cards at home. If you end up with a cart full of junk food when you only needed a bottle of milk, then this trick will really come in handy.
As a general rule, only use your credit cards when making planned purchases or when traveling. Otherwise, leave them at home. It will be a lot less likely to make impulse purchases if these cards are locked up in your cupboard, instead of being in your wallet. Credit and debit cards may be convenient, but they have a tendency to conceal how much money we spend, thus making spending relatively painless, until you get your card statement or check your bank account. The more transparent the payment outflow is, such as cash payment, the greater the aversion to spending, or higher the “pain of paying”.
9. Carry larger value notes
We tend to spend larger value notes like RM50 or RM100 less freely than smaller value ones like RM1, RM5 and RM10, because we derive a sense of pleasure from having them in our wallets. It will help control spending by carrying larger value notes in your wallet.
You are more likely to think twice about getting a coffee from that fancy cafe if you know that you will have to use your RM100 note to satisfy that urge. Taking a few seconds to pause and ponder can help you resist the temptation to spend impulsively.
10. Create a savings account, and put your money into it
Deposit or direct transfer all your income into one savings account. We tend to feel a greater sense of loss when we are forced to transfer money from a savings account to cover our expenses, especially when our savings grow. The psychological boost that we experience by saving money can be just as habit forming as the excitement we get by indulging ourselves with an unplanned purchase. However, unlike impulse buying, saving money never ends in regret.
11. Shop alone
Peer pressure can contribute to you buying products that you just do not need. When your friend buys something nice, you may be tempted to buy the same or similar item. If it is not something you really need, the money could have been channelled to something else more useful.
If money is power, then saving money is empowering. It gives you the financial security and freedom to make choices. These tricks are all meant to help you revalue your money and be on your way to be spending less than you usually do. You are not going to hang onto what you do not value highly – it is the same in relationships as it is in personal finance.